Government takes protest off terrorist watch list

CALIFORNIA — Aprotest of military recruiters held by a student group in California is nolonger on a terrorist watch list thanks to a university chancellor. But theannouncement does little to assuage the students who want to know how theprotest ended up on the list in the first place.

The Department ofDefense removed mention of the campus demonstration from a military databaselast week after the University of California at Santa Cruz’s chancellormet with California’s U.S. senators.

The April 2005 protest waspreviously listed as a “credible threat” in the Threat and LocalObservation Notice database, referred toas TALON.

Department of Defense spokesman Cmdr. Greg Hicksconfirmed the removal of the protest, organized at the University of Californiaat Santa Cruz by the group Students Against War. Hicks also said a number ofsimilar protest activities were removed from the database.

He saidthe protests fall under the category of “force protection,” whichtracks threats made against police and military personnel inside the UnitedStates. Hicks said force protection entries make up less than two percent oftotal items in the TALON database.

The Santa Cruz protest wasremoved from the database after the university’s chancellor, Denice D.Denton, met in Washington, D.C., with California senators Dianne Feinstein andBarbara Boxer, according to a press release put out by the university.

After news outlets reported in December that the Santa Cruz protestand an anti-war protest at the University of California at Berkeley were listedin the database as potential threats, Denton challenged the listing and said,“an environment of surveillance and intimidation threatens the core valuesof universities and of our nation.”

Hicks said the protestactivities were removed from the database because “they didn’t fitin the criteria” of the category.

He also confirmed thatUndersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen A. Cambone has recentlycalled for a “comprehensive review of the TALON program to determine ifDepartment of Defense officials violated any regulations governing domesticcounterintelligence efforts, and to ascertain whether changes to the program arenecessary.”

Hicks said the review would ensure the trackingsystem is line with national rules and regulations.

But oneCalifornia student involved with the anti-war group that organized the protestsaid its removal from the database is too little, too late.

“It isn’t exactly a huge success on our part, becausethe spying has already happened,” Josh Sonnenfeld said Saturday in anarticle in the Santa Cruz Sentinel.Summerfield is a member of Students Against War. “This announcementdoesn’t make the spying null and void.”

Sonnenfeld toldthe local paper he was also interested in how the announcement would affect theFreedom of Information Act request filed earlier this month by the AmericanCivil Liberties Union of Northern California on behalf of public universities inSanta Cruz and Berkeley.

The FOI request asked for all records andinformation kept on the anti-war groups by several government agencies,including the Department of Defense.

Stella Richardson, a spokeswomanfor the ACLU of Northern California, said ACLU lawyers are still pursuing theFOI request even after the Santa Cruz protest was dropped from the TALONdatabase.

“If they’re removing [the protest],that’s good — but it shouldn’t be in there,” said MarkSchlosberg, an attorney for the ACLU who filed the FOI request. “Ourconcern relates to how it got there to begin with, and what kinds of recordsthey have. It’s a positive thing that they’re reviewing theirprogram. Is it the end of concern? Certainly not. My concern won’t bealleviated until I can see all those documents … and make sure the Departmentof Defense isn’t gathering inappropriate information onindividuals.”

by Allison Retka, SPLC staff writer